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Bundling curated books & exclusive merch, Johor sisters keep local book box culture alive

As an avid reader, I’ve always been fascinated with book subscription boxes such as OwlCrate and FairyLoot. However, the conversion rate plus the shipping fees from these brands would often be too unreasonable, so I never bought them.  

While searching for a more affordable book box, I came across Duality Box, started by sisters Sufina and Iffah.

On a bus ride to their hometown of Johor in 2018, the younger sister, Iffah, pitched the idea of doing a book box, and Sufina saw the appeal.  

“Right on the bus, we took our notebooks out and started jotting down ideas, the name of our box, our unique selling point, our target market, and of course, our very first box, Shield Maiden!” shared Sufina, who is now the CEO, Social Media and Process & Procurement Manager of Duality Box.

Although the two sisters were still students at the time, with Sufina being a final year university student and Iffah taking her diploma, they decided to give the idea a shot.

Sufina described her and her sister as total opposites, like yin and yang. Thus, the word “Duality” was chosen to describe their business.

“We love to think duality also applies to our readers who live in the world of dualities,” Sufina elaborated. “When we read, we are in another new reality.”

Thinking out of the box

When Sufina graduated, she saved up to invest in Duality Box. Thanks to that, the quality improved. However, there were some speedbumps along the way.

Due to Sufina transitioning from student life into work life and Iffah being occupied with her final year of diploma, they had almost a year of hiatus.

The box of Duality Box / Image Credit: Duality Box

But once everything settled, the sisters realised they missed Duality Box. So, they returned to it and even themed their comeback box Rebirth.

Each box consists of a new release book that’s signed by the author, the author’s letter, as well as book-related merchandise. This includes bottles, book sleeves, tote bags, and more. Most of these items are handcrafted and designed by local vendors and artists.

Deidre, another member that has joined the sisters, researches relevant and fitting books. They work with distributors and publishers to figure out whether the books would arrive in time.

Once they’ve decided on a book, the team builds a theme that is relevant to the title.

“We never decide based on our personal preferences, we always try to make sure each theme is unique and caters to every Duality,” Sufina explained.

As for the goodies, Iffah works with the artists to create pieces that are relevant to the book and theme. The artists are not necessarily readers, so Iffah must work to deliver the information the team has in mind.

On top of the books and the goodies, Duality Box also organises Date Night with Author sessions. Here, readers can have a spoiler-free chat with the authors behind the books. Buying a Duality Box is more than just buying a book—it’s a whole experience.

Contents of the boxes / Image Credit: Duality Box / @jardness01

Themes are released a month prior, and pre-orders open at the same time. The team prepares a few hundred boxes every month, and once they sell out, there are no restocks.

Amplifying local voices

At first glance, the RM90 price tag might not seem like a steal, but take the past box for example. March’s box features a signed copy of Only a Monster, which costs more than RM70 on sites like Book Depository.

Speaking of Only a Monster, the fantasy book is written by Vanessa Len, an Australian author with Chinese-Malaysian and Maltese heritage.  

Duality Box seeks to work with diverse voices. Although it hasn’t collaborated with Malaysian-based authors yet, it’s not without trying. In fact, Duality Box did get in touch with local author Hannah Alkaf, but due to time constraints was not able to proceed.

However, the team takes pride in working with local businesses. They’ve collaborated with The White Paper Co, CandleNuts by Nadia, Riza Aziz Arts, and many more local brands for the boxes.

“The reason why we chose to work more with local artists and businesses is to give them exposure as well as to support our fellow small businesses,” Sufina shared.

A fairy-tale future?

Currently, Duality Box is a bimonthly product as the small team doesn’t have the manpower to create boxes every month. Deidre and Iffah are full-time students while Sufina has a full-time job.

The three women behind Duality Box / Image Credit: Duality Box

However, Duality Box told Vulcan Post that they are introducing a Book Only Box starting in May.

“After endless thoughts of wanting to do monthly boxes, we came out with a plan that won’t take as much time as the main box,” Sufina explained.

As its name suggests, the Book Only Box will consist of only a book without any fandom merchandise. However, the book will still be signed and it will also be Duality Box’s own customised version. This means exclusive dust jackets, sprayed or stencilled edges, and more.

While Duality Box is still a side-hustle right now for Sufina, she does think about taking on Duality Box as a full-time project in the future.

Regardless, it’s definitely commendable that the team is able to create these magical boxes every two months whilst juggling school and work. And as the younger sister Iffah gets ready to graduate in the coming year, perhaps the dream of Duality Box being a full-time job will come true after all.

  • Learn more about Duality Box here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: From top to bottom, Deidre, Sufina, and Iffah of Duality Box / @intan_bookattic

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